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“Al-Hamra and Ibn Al-Khatib”… when the West does justice to Muslims

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The film “Alhambra and Ibn al-Khatib” goes back to the history of the Kingdom of Granada, which was established after the collapse of the Almohad state, and presents the story of the construction of the Alhambra Palace during the reign of Sultan Abu Al-Hajjaj Yusuf I (died 755 AH 1354 AD), who was the ruler of the last Islamic kingdom in Andalusia.

The film addresses the roles assigned to the poet and thinker San al-Din bin al-Khatib (died 776 AH, 1374 AD), who rose from writing in the Diwan al-Insha, to the ministry during the reign of Yusuf I, then during the reign of his son, Sultan Muhammad V, Al-Ghani Billah, in his first and then second term.

Because of its justice to the Arab-Islamic civilization in Andalusia, we can safely consider it an anti-Orientalist film or another different facet of this cinema.

Al Jazeera Documentary contributed to the production of the film “Al-Hamra and Ibn Al-Khatib”, which is its largest joint production. It took 7 years to produce, and was directed by the Spanish “Isabel Fernandez”, and it was shown for the first time in Spain in November 2022 under the name (Los Constructores de la Alhambra). i.e. “the builders of Al-Hamra”.

The art of Orientalism…a search for the magic of the East and its neglected treasures

Orientalism is defined as the science of studies of the East, and an orientalist in the Oxford Dictionary is “one who explores the languages ​​and literatures of the East.”

Despite the differences in the artistic visions of the creators and the knowledge of Western researchers, and the differences in the approaches used in their studies, they almost agree on dividing the world into two parts, the first of which descends from the worlds of One Thousand and One Nights, presenting the image of the East swimming in the worlds of imagination and treasures, and the second of which is the toil of vision and rational thought in the Western world. The East in these topics means the regions outside the European West.

However, there is a bright trend in Orientalism, which has devoted its efforts to excavating hidden treasures in our heritage, and the achievements of this trend remain pioneering in various fields, and one of the manifestations of its seriousness is its distance from the idea of ​​a civilizational clash, so it is faithful to the declared definition of the Orientalist; To be a noble scholar, and to overcome difficulties in research, crossing the rugged paths of language and difficult-to-understand writings in Eastern literatures and religions, due to their distance from the Western classical heritage.

Spanish Orientalism…a revengeful tendency that denies the reality of the sun

Spanish Orientalism represents a special branch of Orientalism in general, as the Arab past in the Iberian Peninsula had an impact on its discussions, which made its discussions more narrow, its discussions more inclined to emotion, and its vision closer to revenge. For all of this, he was quick to deny the role of Andalusian Islamic civilization in the European Renaissance.

Al Hamra And Ibn Al Khatib When The West Does Justice To

Juan Goizolo acknowledges this fact in his book “On Spanish Orientalism,” and says: Since the Arab invasion and Spanish life has been subject to the (Christian-Moor) contrast, what we do not have is Muslim and foreign at the same time, and everything we have is Christian and Spanish at the same time. The emphasis on what is ours expands to include Christianity and Spanish simultaneously, while the emphasis on what is not ours similarly includes the nationality and religion of the intruding other. To this day, some fathers in our Andalusian countryside still call every child who has not yet been baptized a Moor.

At a late stage in the twentieth century, the features of another trend of Orientalism began to take shape, and a discourse defending the Arab-Islamic heritage began to appear in Andalusia.

Orientalist cinema…a soft art hiding a violent civilizational clash

Orientalism includes religious and intellectual studies, as much as it includes artistic and creative practice, drawing and literature. Cinema Orientalism remains today the field most closely connected to public opinion and its contribution to the popular nature of films.

Behind the soft dimension of art lies the violent clash of civilizations and involvement in the cultural invasion that heralds Western values ​​and presents them as ideal models without which human happiness is impossible. Hence, cinematic performances – especially Hollywood – presented to all peoples plans for what their existence in existence should look like, reducing them to the Western and specifically American model. It contributed to the devaluation of other models.

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The Arab civilizational model remains the largest target of this cinema for several considerations, perhaps the most important of which is the divergence in the scale of values ​​between the two intellectual systems.

This cinema has means, techniques and artistic methods that make it very effective. What is common between the films of this school of all stripes is the predominance of emotional discourse that pushes us to be affected, instead of thinking, arguing and discussing, and makes watching in the cinema hall more like a hypnosis session, or relaxing on the bed of analysis. Psychologically, the superego loses control over forbidden desires.

The influence of cinema on consciousness…a pillar of American hegemony

The main idea of ​​cinematic Orientalism, with all its branches, is related to the image of the Arab land. It is a neglected world in which the Bedouin Arab resides, unable to reclaim it in a barbaric way. As soon as the civilized Westerner enters it, it is reclaimed and fruitful, then it is devastated and chaos, tyranny, and ignorance prevail as soon as he leaves it.

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Due to the lack of self-censorship, this cinema instills its philosophy in the spectator’s positions, so he internalizes its sayings, often without awareness, even though its view is condescending and contemptuous of him, and he turns into an alienated person subject to the alliance of the three American spheres of influence. Washington is the center of political power, Hollywood is the center of cultural power, and Wall Street is the center of financial power.

There is no doubt that this image of the land contains something of the slogan that Zionism used as a justification for seizing Palestine, which is “a land without a people for a people without a land,” and something of the myth that circulates in Western antiquities, and what happened to Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII, the last Muslim king of Andalusia. When he stood on a hill, bidding farewell to his kingdom, his mother scolded him, saying to him, “Cry like women over a property that you did not preserve like men.” This is a scene created by Bishop Antonio Guevara.

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Since every force produces a counter-force, alternative roles emerged from the womb of this art. Author cinema emerged to combat the alienation perpetuated by stereotypical American cinema, and attempted to confront Orientalist deception. This movement is often initiated by this same Orientalist cinema, but according to a different perception. To the east. Within this alternative Orientalist cinema, then, we can classify the film “Al-Hamra and Ibn Al-Khatib.”

“We have never seen a more beautiful palace.”

The theme of building the Alhambra Palace is the main idea of ​​the movie “Al-Hamra and Ibn Al-Khatib,” and it means the real building. It is related to the construction of the largest monuments of Arab-Islamic architecture. It connects the Arabs’ formation of Islamic architecture with their perception of existence that says that everything around us is “a small body, in which the larger world is folded.”

In the garden there is something of an image of paradise, and the huge dome represents the sky with all its connotations and what lies beyond it. The film, composed by the Minister Ibn Zamrak, provides evidence of this, and he says:

It has a beautiful dome, the likes of which are rare. You see the beauty in it hidden and evident.

Gemini extends a shaking hand to her… and the full moon of the sky approaches her, calling to her.

And the stars would love to see flowers if they were fixed in them… and they were not nearby on the horizon of the sky.

If they are illuminated by the beam, you would imagine them…on the bones of the bodies, as if they were mechanical.

We have never seen a palace more fresh, more fragrant, and more free.

These verses describing the dome of the Comares hall were written on the walls of the palace.

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The film focuses on the Andalusian civilizational structure that has been resisting the Christian encroachment for more than two and a half centuries. Therefore, Isabel Fernandez makes our visit to the palace an occasion to present the testimonies of historians, all of which praise the Arab-Andalusian civilization and its active role in the Middle Ages.

There is no doubt that the director was intentionally extracting recognition from the Spanish academics themselves, working to resist the stigma of classic Spanish Orientalist thought of ingratitude.

Building edifices…writing history on the surface of the earth

The film begins with diving scenes that penetrate the fog and dive to the bottom, to convey external scenes of the city of Granada, focusing on what remains of the architecture of the Alhambra. Then, after this framing, it takes us to internal scenes, and takes us around the wondrous ancient palace, and the masterpiece of Islamic architecture in Andalusia.

Some of its components are presented, including the large courtyard of basil, the hall of lions with marble fountains, the hall of Comares with a giant dome, the royal baths, spacious halls, towers, doors, and decorative plaster or colored ceramic elements.

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The film recalls the resentment of some Andalusians over what they saw in the construction of the palace. They found it to be a waste of money, and they believed that spending it on strengthening the strength of the state was better and more worthy, especially since the kingdom was threatened in its existence, besieged by the banners of its enemies.

This precaution is based on Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the cycle of development of civilizations before their collapse, and he finds in the expansion of the structure major signs indicating the collapse of the state.

But this opinion remains fleeting, as the main director’s treatment saw this landmark as a forecast for the future, as if the building was writing Arab history on the soil of Andalusia. It is as if the walls are ink that invites us to contemplate what the forearms have inscribed on them. From this elongated building, Andalusian history has remained spread among us and immortal in our minds.

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We must pay attention to the implicit metaphor that makes the building a writing against erasure, as is the case with the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, and the city of Carthage. It draws the various sub-ideas of the film into a coherent whole, and the matter is not merely an interpretation. Director Isabel Fernandez cites – by way of analogy – Caliph Abd al-Rahman al-Nasser’s response to Judge al-Mundhir bin Saeed al-Baluti’s protest against the waste of money in Madinat al-Zahra, which reads:

If the kings wanted to mention it… after them, it would be in the tongues of edifying buildings.

Or do you not see that the two pyramids have remained, and how many possessions have been erased by the accidents of time?

When a building increases in importance, it indicates great importance

Vizier Ibn Zamrak confirms this meaning, stating that the decoration and marble columns carved into the red work to highlight the power of God and the glory of Islam.

Filming the film…a lens fascinated by the details of architectural beauty

The director often relies on insert shots that lovingly contemplate every detail of architectural beauty, constantly shifting her shooting angles to angles of counter-immersion, revealing her insistence on the meanings of grandeur and immensity. These angles that capture the visuals from below double their size and make them reach the sky.

Insinuating Lisan al-Din Ibn al-Khatib’s insightful, forward-looking view, the director moves from inserting the lens of his eye (the actor Amr Waked) to the map of Andalusia and the greatness of its achievements. It seems that the cognitive background was decisive, as the director worked to respect geographical knowledge at that time.

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It is no secret to anyone familiar with old cinema that the scene mimics the metaphor of the eye – the drain in the bathroom scene from the movie “Psychose” by director Alfred Hitchcock, when the camera passed through the insertion of the lens of the victim’s eye after an unknown killer killed her. To turn the drain, within the context of suspense, to create meanings of emptiness and death. But the director changes the meaning of the metaphor to the eye – the earth. So you make it a symbol of the meanings of fullness and life.

This artistic treatment reflects the director’s victory for Arab civilization, her recognition of its effective contribution, her consideration of the Andalusian period as a component of Spanish identity, and her declaration of her involvement in the Orientalist trend that acknowledges cultural difference and diversity, and celebrates the various customs and traditions that make up the regions of Spain.

Resisting the hateful Orientalist cinematic trend…a new trend

Although the film is of multiple nationalities and identities between Westerners, Arabs, Christians, and Muslims, and although the channels producing the film have an influence on its approaches in line with their editorial line, its filmic treatment determines its belonging to the luminous trend of cinematic Orientalism, and to the auteur cinema that makes the director the primary artistic responsible for everything. The film contains aesthetic and intellectual visions, and this is what makes it a work against the hateful Orientalist cinematic trend.

In order to understand the extent of its freedom from the complex of civilizational clash and the mechanical tendency to devalue the achievements of Arab civilization, we must recall, for example, the historical feature film “The Physician,” directed by the German “Philipp Stölzl” (2013).

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Although the film presents the biography of Ibn Sina within a cinematic vision that exalts his passion for his knowledge, it does not make the distinction of the Islamic doctor and philosopher a result of the accumulation of centuries-old knowledge of medical science throughout the Islamic world, but rather an individual genius and exception within an environment dominated by darkness.

Indeed, he denied some of the achievements of Islamic medicine. It is historically proven that Ibn al-Nafis demonstrated that blood moves from the right ventricle to the left ventricle via the lungs, which is known as the minor circulation. He refuted the Greek Galen’s hypothesis that blood reaches the left ventricle of the heart. Through invisible pathways in the interventricular septum.

As for the movie, it attributes it to the young Englishman “Rob Cole” (the fictional character), who within a few months becomes a genius who dissects corpses himself and influences his teacher, guiding him to treat various diseases or correcting his information about the blood circulation.